Is a CAD rental and training business viable?
I found a question on LinkedIn I thought to answer here since more people might find it useful (I don’t know if that link will work for you unless you belong to that group). Anyway, the individual in question (Michelle) said (paraphrased and snipped):
I want to start a business where young designers can rent time on CAD software and equipment that I will buy. I think there is a need for this kind of studio – there are many young designers coming straight out of school who could benefit from CAD software.
Has anyone heard of this kind of business? Is there an existing business model I could learn from? If this kind of CAD studio were available in your area at an affordable rate, would you be interested in the services? What kind of needs would you expect this studio to meet? I am interested in any kind of feedback or information you can offer.
I think this could be a viable business but I also think the focus needs to change somewhat. My first approach would be to ask CAD trainers one simple question: Who wants to use CAD systems?
The answer is businesses. Meaning, there is a mismatch between your mission and the market. I completely agree it would be awesome to provide CAD access to independent designers but most of them need hard patterns because their lots are so small. Also, while they may have acquired some training in school, there’s a big gap between school vs good production patterns to say nothing of knowing how to grade them. I’m not saying you shouldn’t provide access to them -you should- only that CAD access alone won’t pay the bills. What will pay the bills is training.
Regardless of how you envision the business mission, the immutable fact is that you will become a training center. Either because the designers, businesses or even other patternmakers don’t know the particular CAD program you have or they don’t know how to execute desired effects. Very few students ever take grading so that’s another lack. Anyway, because you will be training, it is better to structure it that way instead of getting sidelined and having to regroup, restructure or divert resources later on. If your resources are limited, you may not survive a necessary transition. Besides, you don’t want to lend the impression that you lack focus.
Does it go without saying that one must charge for training? CAD training can be very expensive, $150+ an hour plus expenses if they have to fly someone in so there is a real need for this. If you train well, few customers will stay on to pay rent on your system. Most of them (or their employers) will either buy or have their own CAD system. You also probably cannot imagine how many old school pattern makers there are who are dying to learn CAD but for one reason or another, haven’t had the opportunity.
Since you’ll be offering access to CAD, I suggest asking CAD trainers another simple question (as I have):
Q. Who wants training (and will pay for it)?
A. The typical customer is a business rather than an independent.
Since the average customer is a business, it’s helpful to know why they need training. Sure they can tell you but some people can’t articulate what they don’t know much about -which also indirectly affects their expectations. The four key reasons businesses need CAD training are that they:
- are adopting CAD for the first time,
- are upgrading from a manual pattern set up to CAD patterns,
- are migrating from one CAD platform to another, or
- need a cost effective way to get new hires up to speed. It can be less costly for a business to send a new hire to a trainer than to lose the productivity of a pattern maker in house.
Users who are adopting CAD for the first time will need the most services so you need to give extra thought to your curriculum development or even, develop criteria for students you will accept in consideration of your limited time. This group will also be the most challenging. Every CAD trainer I’ve talked to has said that the most common expectation of these businesses is that a trainee will learn how to make patterns in the course of learning CAD because who ever is in charge has decided that CAD can make patterns so they just need someone comfortable with computing to learn the program. Really, that’s what they think (the day a CAD system will make patterns for you is the day that Microsoft Word will write a book for you). Meaning, you may get applicants with little facility for the work, may not know how to sew, much less care to learn it.
What also goes unsaid about these businesses is that many are also setting up their own product development for the first time. Meaning, you may end up being pulled in unintended directions. Perhaps you’d welcome consulting opportunities but surely they’d need direction in organizing the flow of prototyping, testing, meeting strictures of the time and action calender etc. They may also need guidance with developing technical packages etc. Speaking of, adding training for technical package software is another potentially profitable revenue stream.
With respect to people who need training because they’re migrating from a manual to a CAD system, it’s a little easier because product development has already been set up so your challenge will be to integrate the new system harmoniously. There are still challenges based on how the company is set up. For example, do they do their own production? If so it’s a little easier. If not, there are a range of issues to deal with such as who is making markers etc. If it’s the contractor, you need to worry about software compatability and file conversions. If it is in house, you also need to add a training module for marking -and preceding that, a module on how to grade. I can’t speak for you but I would prefer this group over the first because they won’t be as resource intensive in that you won’t have to teach them how to make patterns and how to organize their whole operation.
Businesses falling in the third category are probably the most effective to work with because the pattern maker already knows how to make patterns and on a CAD system at that. Your value is enhanced if you know whatever CAD system they had been using.
The last category (#4) can be six of one, half a dozen of another. You may end up with someone who interviewed well but is fresh out of school and doesn’t know as much as they let on. You could also end up with a highly skilled old school pattern maker who is so terrified of technology that they’ve never used a computer or even have so much as an email address. It happens.
All that said, I would have been thrilled if there had been a training business where I could have learned CAD. There are a lot of pattern makers who would like to learn but for one reason or another, never had the opportunity or the means to learn. I think a business like this would be very viable in given population densities with a sufficient trade base. Again, I’m not saying you couldn’t rent out time on a CAD system only that training is going to be a compelling need.
If you start out with an eye to developing a training center, your business is of interest to CAD companies because they don’t have the means to offer low cost training (so you should reach out to them). If you provided that, more people would use their software. Software companies are in the business of selling software; training is only a necessary adjunct to it so you might be able to work out favorable terms as you need to acquire additional licenses for more computers.